John Carpenter’s Vampires Collector’s Edition Blu-ray Review: Put a Stake in It

An armored van pulls up to a dilapidated house. A group of scruffy-looking men and a priest get out. The van is full of weapons: guns, knives, stakes, and crossbows. The men arm themselves. Out front stands Jack Crow (James Woods). He takes a crossbow, barks orders, and looks cool in his sunglasses. Inside the house is a nest of vampires and this crew has been hired by the Vatican to kill them. The priest blesses them and then it’s in for some stabbing. The guns don’t seem to hurt the vamps but they do knock them around. Shots are fired. Stakes are plunged. The crossbow is connected to a cable which is also connected to the jeep that Anthony (Daniel Baldwin) reverses to drag the vamps into the sun to light them up like Roman candles.

After directing Escape from L.A., John Carpenter was ready to retire from making films. It had been a critical and commercial failure and Carpenter felt making movies just wasn’t fun anymore. But then someone handed him two different scripts for Vampires and the novel they were based upon and he figured this was something he could work with. He took the best parts of all three stories and blended them in his own John Carpenter way. The results are something like a mix between a Howard Hawks western and a traditional vampire movie, though not nearly as impressive as that sounds.

After the successful vampire-slaying, the team goes back to the hotel for drinks and hookers. Jack is a little concerned that there wasn’t a Master Vampire in that nest, but hey, there is alcohol and half-naked ladies around so worrying can come later. Sure enough just as they start having real fun the Master Vampire (Thomas Ian Griffith) shows up, turning the hotel room into a slaughterhouse. Only Jack, Daniel, and a prostitute named Katrina (Sheryl Lee) survive. She was bitten which means she’ll become a vampire in a few days, but until then the psychic connection she now has with the Master will work as a sort of ESP GPS leading them right to him. Jack might have been killing vamps for money beforehand, but this time, as they say, it’s personal.

After talking to the Cardinal in charge of vampires (Maximillian Schell), they learn that the Master might be the original vampire created during a botched exorcism. He’s now after the cross that helped turn him which will now give him the ability to walk about in sunlight which is bad news for everybody.

Jack is given a tragic back story. Katrina and Anthony fall in love. A final battle is had. The story is very standard stuff. Carpenter shot it in New Mexico and gives those wide-open spaces a very classic western feel. His vampires have left behind all their sensuality and gothic trappings and kept their ferocious cruelty.

James Woods in his pre-Twitter-ranting days turns in a fine performance as Jack. He’s all cool shades and a sneer. Sheryl Lee is striking in the “thankless hooker with a heart of gold” role. Daniel, the least memorable of the Baldwins brothers, is definitely in this movie.

Vampires is stylish, violent and pretty fun. Were it directed by some no-name, it would probably be a big cult favorite. But because it was directed by John Carpenter, one of the all-time great horror directors, one can only wonder what might have been. Since this was released, he’s only made two other films – Ghost of Mars in 2001 and The Ward in 2010.

Scream Factory has given it the collector’s treatment. Presented with a 2.35: 1 aspect ratio and a 1080p transfer, it comes with new interviews with John Carpenter, producer Sandy King Carpenter, cinematographer Garry B. Kibbe, James Woods, Thomas Ian Griffith, special effects artist Greg Nicotero, and actor Tim Guinee. There’s also an audio commentary from Carpenter which is a treat, an isolated score track (which was composed by Carpenter), and the usual trailers, tv spots, and a stills gallery.

A vampire movie shot in the style of old westerns directed by John Carpenter should have been aces, but unfortunately, it came out a much poorer hand. For fans, there is enough to like, and Scream Factory has done their darnedest to make it worth your dollars, but it’s hard not to wish for what could have been.

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Mat Brewster

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